Asian Shares See Muted Gains Ahead Of Biden Address

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Asian stocks rose slightly in cautious trading on Wednesday as investors awaited the results of the U.S. Federal Open Market Committee meeting later in the day for further insight into the bank's thinking on inflation and bond purchases.

Investors also awaited U.S. President Joe Biden's address to a joint session of Congress for clues on further stimulus measures.

Chinese stocks posted modest gains, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index ending up 14.46 points, or 0.4 percent, at 3,457.07.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose 129.80 points, or 0.5 percent, to 29,071.34. Investors shrugged off official data showing that Hong Kong's merchandise exports grew at a softer pace in March.

Japanese shares ended slightly higher after data showed the country's retail sales rose 5.2 percent year-on-year in March, representing the fastest growth in five months. The Nikkei 225 Index edged up 62.08 points, or 0.2 percent, to 29,053.97, while the broader Topix closed 0.3 percent higher at 1,909.06.

Sony rallied 3.1 percent before announcing its fourth quarter results later in the day. Robot maker Fanuc rose 2 percent and air conditioner maker Daikin Industries advanced 2.8 percent. Brokerage Nomura Holdings gained 1.5 percent after releasing its quarterly results.

Australian markets eked out modest gains, led by banks and energy companies. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 30.90 points, or 0.4 percent, to 7,064.70, while the broader All Ordinaries Index ended up 24.50 points, or 0.3 percent, at 7,320.

Woodside Petroleum and Santos rose over 1 percent, tracking gains in oil prices overnight. Viva Energy jumped 3 percent to extend gains from the previous session after the fuel supplier said it is making strong progress on its business recovery program.

Lender Westpac advanced 1.2 percent after it agreed to settle a class action over life insurance launched by Shine Lawyers. The other three big banks rose between half a percent and 1.1 percent on easing concerns of an earlier than expected interest rate hike after quarterly inflation data came in under expectations.

Ansell shares rallied 3.9 percent as the safety products company upgraded its full-year guidance. Gold miner St Barbara plunged 7.9 percent and electronics juggernaut JB Hi-Fi slumped 4 percent after reporting disappointing earnings for the quarter.

Shareholder registry firm Link Administration lost 6.3 percent after a private equity group withdrew its bid for the firm.

Seoul stocks tumbled as Covid-19 worries persisted and U.S. Treasury yields bounced back above the 1.6 percent level on expectations of a faster than expected global recovery from the pandemic. The benchmark Kospi fell 33.95 points, or 1.1 percent, to 3,181.47.

In economic news, consumer confidence in South Korea picked up steam in April, the latest survey from the Bank of Korea showed, with an index score of 102.2, up from 100.7 in March.

New Zealand shares finished off their day's highs as investors awaited the latest decision from the Fed. The benchmark NZX 50 Index hit as high as 12,664.42 before settling at 12,646.14, up 25.62 points, or 0.2 percent.

U.S. stocks ended flat to slightly lower overnight as Treasury yields climbed and Tesla's results failed to impress investors. The Dow and the S&P 500 ended nearly flat, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite slipped 0.3 percent.

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